Standing off the precipice of an abandoned hot springs, the sky is set aflame.
It was a wet day, spent driving through and dodging storms. The skies were overcast and the lighting flat, when they weren’t showering us with desert thunderstorms. As the sun dipped beneath the horizon, hidden beyond the bend of the river, its golden rays exploded into a symphony of color, a brief victory against the clouds that had kept it hidden from the Earth most of the day.
A roll of thunder boomed through the air. We gathered ourselves and our things and began the hike back to the car, passing ancient petroglyphs and relics from the 1950s as fat drops of rain made surly plops on the trail’s red dirt.
Night had come at last, and with it what we came for.
A thunderstorm in Texas is no mere storm. The winds blow in howling gales, scattering dust and debris away in preparation for the arrival of towering grey pillars of cumulonimbus thunderheads. The orchestra set, the show begins: Rumbles of thunder trumpet the arrival of the storm, as cloud-to-cloud lightning flashes and dances across the sky, bringing sparks of visibility to an otherwise darkened Earth. A stillness grips the air – motion has surrendered its zeal but for a moment, when suddenly the flash of a bolt miles away pierces the sky and a whip-like crackle arrives shortly after, as though Zeus himself had decided to go to war.
And with that the clouds open, and the moisture from a thousand rivers, lakes, and oceans that had traveled across the continent all this way again falls in a fury across the desert as we bolt away for the Santa Elena Canyon.
We drive in muted silence. The Canyon is forty miles away. It is dark. We are tired. We are outrunning a storm behind us, and if the forecast is to be believed, we are running straight into the mouth of another. We drive faster. The only thing visible is the road illuminated by our headlights as miles and miles slip beneath our tires as we try to outpace two storms.
“This was it.
This was why we came here.”
It is just past midnight. We arrive at the trailhead, gear up, and make haste for the Rio Grande, where we soon find ourselves alone in calm, quiet darkness, with clear, beautiful skies. We made it. Standing in the silty waters of the Rio Grande, we stare upwards into the sheer cliff face of Santa Elena, tucked between storms in quiet darkness. On our left, Mexico. To our right, the United States – and just above, framing the maw of the canyon, billions of stars dotting the inky blackness of the desert sky, with not but a Flieger and our thoughts as company.
This was it.
This was why we came here. This was why we create the products that we do. This was why we drove two thousand miles through beauty and desolation, through scorching sun and dry earth, through hot air and angry skies.
And so, during a new moon in the darkest skies in the lower 48 states, guided by the the most powerful Electric Torch in our fleet, we tested what we came to test, and saw what we came to see.
For a brief moment we were, all of us, still. We were relieved. We had found extraordinary luck in dodging storms to be where we were. We felt small. The majesty of sheer canyon walls towering over us, and specks of light dotting the sky as far as the eyes could see. Simple emotions, perhaps, but ones rare to find in a form quite so pure as this.
We would have liked to savor the moment longer. Not one of us would lodge protest against lingering for minutes or hours more here. But as we click through our last frames, the clouds we had outrun to get here begin to obscure the stars. For a while now, behind the cameras, the encroaching clouds have been a light show. They haven’t forgotten about us, and it’s time to leave. The last storm swallowed the trail into the canyon, and we are not keen to join it.
A single bar of cell service, and playing with phone positioning like a TV antenna from the 80s, lets us download a radar forecast for our campsite. What’s expected is dire. Our destination is 46 miles away.
We bolt out. About an hour later, we beat the storm, again. We set up camp. We make sure the stakes in the ground are secure, and prepare the car as extra sleeping quarters. Some of us take a dram of Mezcal and steel our resolve against the night.
With the wind whipping and the hour long past 2AM, an exhaustion settles in and we each drift into a deep, dreamless sleep, only to awake in paradise.
500 miles lie ahead of us to get home, but our journey with you ends here, in high desert air and azure skies. We hope that you’ve enjoyed your travels through West Texas with us in spirit, and hope greater still that you’ll write the stories of your own adventures and share them with us all.
For those who seek, may you also find. See you out there.